In a critical Big East showdown the upset- minded St. John's Red Storm will take aim at the ninth-ranked Syracuse Orange when the two Empire State rivals meet up at the Carrier Dome on Sunday afternoon.
With a 71-65 victory over Connecticut on Wednesday the Red Storm has been in the win column in six of its last seven games. St. John's is 15-8 overall on the season, while holding a 7-4 mark against Big East competition. That has the Red Storm in a tie for fifth place in the league standings with No. 23 Pittsburgh. St. John's is a game over .500 in its seven true away tests (4-3). The road won't get any easier for St. John's next as it visits No. 11 Louisville on Thursday.
Syracuse bounced back from a two-game slide with a 63-47 win at the Carrier Dome against Notre Dame last Monday. Syracuse has been impossible to stop at home this season with a 14-0 mark in front of the Orange faithful. Overall the Orange is 19-3 for the season and 7-2 in league action. Syracuse is a half- game behind Marquette for the top spot in the Big East standings. The Orange hit the road to face Connecticut next.
These two charter members of the Big East have met 86 times previously. Syracuse owns a 49-37 edge in the all-time series and has won seven straight and 13 of the last 14 meetings.
Although St. John's managed to shoot at just a 33.3 percent rate against UConn the Red Storm was able to hold on against the Huskies. The Red Storm shot 45.5 percent in the second half and knocked down 19-of-25 shots from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes.
In the win, JaKarr Sampson (14.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) provided a game-high 18 points to extend his streak of games in double figures to 10. Normally D'Angelo Harrison (18.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) has been the top option for the Red Storm after having scored in double figures in 20 games this season. Harrison is the second best scorer in the Big East as well. The scoring options are limited beyond those two especially with Jamal Branch (8.3 ppg,) sidelined with a sprained left MCL. That is particularly bad news for St. John's which ranks among the bottom five teams in the conference in points (68.4 pg), assists (12.5 pg) and field goal percentage (.430). Luckily the Red Storm is a strong defensive team especially around the rim. Led by conference-leading shot- blocker Chris Obekpa (4.4 bpg), the Red Storm swat a national-best 7.8 shots per game.
Led by 18 points from C.J. Fair and a strong defensive effort, Syracuse eased by Notre Dame. The Orange held the Fighting Irish to 34.6 percent shooting in the contest, knocking down 48.9 percent of their own shots. Syracuse also scored 16 points off turnovers and had a 15-5 edge in points from the free- throw line.
Though the Orange are still the best scoring team in the Big East on paper (75.4 ppg), the squad has lacked some punch with the extended absence of James Southerland (13.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), who is still out due to academic issues. The Orange still have a wealth of talent on the floor every night. Brandon Triche (14.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Big East assist leader Michael Carter-Williams (12.2 ppg, 8.5 apg) roam the perimeter though Triche has no problem putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. Fair (13.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is a lanky forward that scores and rebounds well and Rakeem Christmas (6.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.1 bpg) provides size on the interior. The frontcourt has been further hurt by the absence of DaJuan Coleman (5.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) who has been out since Jan. 27 after undergoing left knee surgery.